Type: Song / December 2014
Only a few months after the release of the U-Boat EP I began working on new songs. This, alongside Higuera, were two that came together on piano. I can’t recall how intentional it was, but the next EP (In Skeletal) would end up being a step towards the music I really wanted to make. It was like a light had gone on in my head. Perhaps partly inspired by the more guitar led, punkier happenings in the city or anchored by the realities of how things could work live (as a three piece), I’d set aside any ambitions of making music like my heroes Mogwai or Low or others within their orbit like Godspeed You! Black Emperor!
As much as it had been fun to gig the last EP, playing sets to people in Barnsley shouting loudly for Oasis songs between our own or solo sets in shopping centres feeling obliged to throw in a cover (no matter how obscure) just wasn’t fun.
Originally titled Fifteen 21st Century Winters (dropped for brevity’s sake, and a resemblance to The Twilight Sad’s debut album) it was musically intended as a sparse thing, or more through necessity as I had no piano skills whatsoever. Inspired as ever by John Lennon’s lazy approach to piano chord progressions, the verse and chorus are as simple as can be with the chorus taken from the unlikely to be recorded The Why Of Clive.
The ending was the part I really liked. Having no chord knowledge to work from, I just created these two note chords with one finger rising as another declines. Rhythmically it felt interesting and could act as a nice jump from the plod of the rest of the song. I played alot with the structure. As they were kind of weird chords I thought an irregular bar structure might create an interesting meandering / unsure feel. With the full 8 bar structure in place, I let the chords reveal themselves almost one at a time. So, after a 3 bar cycle, it progressed to be 4 bars / 5 bars / 6 bars / 8 bars / 7 bars / end.
Once we were in the studio, this allowed the guitar strums on every other chord to pop up sometimes on the one, sometimes the two and the big dramatic jump in volume come four bars through a six bar phrase. The important thing was that this all felt natural and not tricksy – definitely a development from earlier songwriting. The contrast to the simplicity of the first half was nicely effective.
Lyrically, the song was a big challenge. After lots of sci-fi / existential stories I really wanted to try and explore some form of reality. The In Skeletal EP was intended to do this, but with a light touch – most of it was instrumental after all. But this song was key and it was the first time I recall sitting down and trying to write how I actually felt, bare and on the page without hiding behind anything. It was incredibly difficult.
But the song becomes about that. “A tongue grown shy” led to the instrumentally led feel of In Skeletal, and the confidence to know that is where my truth lay at that time. The silence of winter mornings is my oft reflected on memory of finishing night shifts and feeling like the only person in the world as I drove home at 6am. It’s a wonderful feeling, one broken by noise or speech or thought.
“Fifty single lines” refers to the UBoat EP song “Fifty Lines” which was about sparks of ideas not being seen through to completion – now that is not even a concern. To bury that and remain in silence is a stronger urge. Sticking to the three – to the safe and mediocre – rather than risk more. It’s the peace but also the danger of a quieter life. The title, the 21st Century Winters, refers to that idea that things were always better in the past. I remember amazing winters in my childhood – wonderful heavy snow showers that stuck around for days. At the time of writing, those types of winters where it is the right temperature to snow and for it to stick around seem to have gone. They are either too hot, just a grey nothing or are too cold – brutal biting winds too harsh to go outside into. Of course, Climate Change may have something to say about this.
Even these winters are disappointing. Not awful, just not the same. A three on the dice. And the growing, gnawing sense of needing to be truthful and honest just pushes us further indoors – I’m not willing to pretend is any other way.
In the context of it’s later re-appearance on the album The Invisible Anchor, this desire and resignation to be hidden, but equally a sadness and bitterness at it rang true. It was felt that it was such a musical step up that it was worth pinching from the mixed bag of the In Skeletal EP to be placed on the debut album
I want to live truthfully
but my tongue has grown shy.
It breathes the fresh-faced silence of January winter mornings
and does not want to break the separated bliss.
Nevermind fifty single lines;
the will to bury is too strong.
And more attractive to stick on the three
not try for the six,
to accept I’m obsolete, defeated and arcane,
than stand up against…